Philadelphia 'breakthrough' as research uncovers financial value created by parks

A groundbreaking report from the US quantifying the financial values generated by parks and green spaces in Philadelphia has revealed that the benefits are worth around 100 times the annual investment made.

The research paper, called How Much Value Does the City of Philadelphia Receive from its Park and Recreation System, puts a figure on benefits such as savings in medical costs, water and air pollution, and sales tax received from tourists visiting the area primarily for its parks.

Commissioned by the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, the aim of the research is to show that parks are undervalued in financial terms.

Leading UK parks consultant Alan Barber said he was thrilled with the report: "It proposes a real advance in the evidence base needed to help persuade government to reverse the continuing revenue budget decline in the UK and invest more in green infrastructure."

Although the report admits the "science of city park economics is in its infancy", it has been able to analyse and define values for seven attributes of the Philadelphia park system it believes are measurable.

Park experts and economists devised a series of calculators to measure: removal of air pollution through vegetation; reducing the cost of managing urban storm water; residential property value; direct use value, or the amount of money residents save by enjoying activities in parks rather than in commercial facilities; promoting human health; tourist spending; and stimulating community cohesion.

GreenSpace general and business development manager Dave Tibbatts commented: "We have had a huge information deficit and if this stands up, it will be a model for the future.

"This report is going to be so important because it looks at everything we are saying about the true value of parks and they really do have a financial value in terms of health and community cohesion."

Although CABE Space is currently working on research to be published in the autumn, which is provisionally entitled Measuring the Asset Value of Park Infrastructure, research adviser Helen Beck said the body was still some way off calculating financial values of "intangibles".

"We are at a much earlier stage than Philadelphia but can definitely aspire to it," said Beck.

"Our research is about getting a figure for how much everything is worth in a park - what we have and manage on a daily basis - which parks departments can use to link to good-quality ongoing provision of the service.

"We do need more evidence in this context and it would be great to see something like (the Philadelphia report) coming out here in the future," Beck explained.

"We have been claiming financial values for years and we are getting closer to being able to prove it," Tibbatts added.

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